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Lakota Stellar STEM Weekend

Emboldened by the success and informed by the challenges of the September STEM weekend for seven Bad River Ojibwe girls hosted by Physics & Astronomy (and funded entirely with a grant through OIDI), alumna Ava Polzin (with a grant again from OIDI and an additional one through CNAIR) tweaked weekend plan and content for the March 29 – 31 outreach hosted by P&A and CIERA and this time welcoming half a dozen middle school-age Lakota girls and their teacher/chaperones from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. (The distance this group traveled made for some exceptional concerns that P&A staff Pamela Villalovoz and Agnes Engstrom creatively helped solve across the season of planning.)

Northwestern’s Lakota guests were overwhelmed by the instruction they received on campus from P&A and SESP/Psych faculty (Professors Art Schmidt, Raf Margutti, Zosia Krusberg, and Megan Bang), the presentation just for them at the Adler (with Professor Aaron Geller), their having special permission to use Dearborn overnight to observe the changing views in the telescope (with graduate/postbacc students Candice Stauffer, Aprajita Hajela, and Katie Barnhart, who volunteered to stay up all night with the group), and the workshop that CIERA Professor Christopher Berry and UW-Madison PhD candidate Charee Peters did on Citizen Science to position the girls to present their research, if they run with what they learned in the outreach, at the AISES conference in Milwaukee in October. The ideal contact for making introductions for proposal submission for that presentation, Pamala Silas, formerly the AISES Chief Executive Officer, now works in CNAIR with Medill Professor and Center Director Patty Loew, who spent months offering guidance in planning both of the outreach weekends at Northwestern and the weekends’ celebration dinner/exchange of star stories and science, this time co-facilitated by P&A Professor Deborah Brown.

The Saturday evening event was attended by four P&A/CIERA professors and half a dozen (graduate, postbacc and undergraduate) students, who joined families of those working in the sponsoring offices (OIDI and CNAIR), as well as a community group that provides support for the Lakota, every single participant leaving with the thank you gifts of beadwork and shirts that our guests surprised us by bringing. That gesture was in heartwarming parallel to the their being welcomed to campus on Friday with Northwestern mementos, much of it provided by OIDI’s Native American & Indigenous Initiatives Manager Jasmine Gurneau, and featuring OIDI’s indigenized university logo that was also incorporated into P&A undergraduate Julie Malewicz’s thoughtful sweatshirt design (those shirts a gift to the girls from SPS). The weekend prompted many of those on both the hosting and visiting end to comment on how gratifying it was to participate in the learning-and-goodwill-packed weekend, and at last report, not only were the girls planning to finish the introduced research project, but one of the teacher/chaperones was inspired to go back to school and is currently exploring advanced degree options.

Sponsoring offices:

  • Northwestern University Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion – OIDI
  • Northwestern University Center for Native American and Indigenous Research – CNAIR

Also mentioned:

  • American Indian Science & Engineering Society – AISES
  • NU Society of Physics Students – SPS